LGBT+ campus climate studies yield mixed results

Category:  News
Wednesday, February 14th, 2018 at 7:32 PM
LGBT+ campus climate studies yield mixed results by Hannah McDonald

On Feb. 8, Edinboro University hosted its most recent installment of the Social Equity Distinguished Lecturer Series. The lecture, held in the Pogue Student Center theater, was presented by Dr. Will Koehler, Dr. Hillary Copp and Ms. Jessica Hippely, professors of the social work department. 

All but a few seats in the theater were filled when the lecture began promptly at 12:30 p.m. 

The day’s lecture was a comparative one based on studies conducted at the university in 2012 and then 2017. The focus of both studies was the campus climate for LGBTQ+ students at Edinboro and how such climate had changed over the five years between surveys. The purpose of the study was to answer the question, “Are Edinboro University students observing anti-LGBT behaviors such as microaggressions, bullying and harassment?”

Some of the findings were caused by shifting climates, while others may have been caused by slight changes in research techniques. In 2012, the survey was administered using a convenience sample. This means that it was given to classes of professors that may have been friends with the researchers or owed them a favor, jokingly explained Copp. 

That year, the survey was distributed to 12 classes — a total of 417 students. 

In 2017, however, the survey was given using a random number generator. With this technique, all the classes and class sections for the entire undergraduate catalog were given a number. Then, a number of groups were selected randomly by a computer program. The classes that were chosen by the generator were the ones that then had to take the survey. This technique is less convenient but more random, Copp said. It creates more of a chance to get people that had not been surveyed before. 

 In fall 2017, the survey received 3.5 percent more responses than the previous one given five years prior. In total, 18 classes and 446 students were surveyed this time around.

Both surveys were anonymous and optional, but students were asked to identify their age, ethnicity, sex, academic status, gender identity and sexual identity. The mean age of respondents was 22 years old both times, and each time, first year students had the highest percentage of responses. 

The results of the surveys were compared and broken down into four subscales: the morality scale, the friendship scale, the observation of peers scale and the faculty/staff scale.  On the morality scale, questions such as, “Do you agree or disagree that sex between two men is disgusting?” and, “Do you agree or disagree that bisexual women are disgusting?” were asked. The comparison of the two surveys showed that in response to every question, the percentage of people who felt each category was disgusting decreased. 

The friendship scale included questions about friend relationships. It asked the respondent, if they received information that their friend was gay, bisexual or transgender, would they do nothing, be uncomfortable or end the friendship? In response to all the categories, the percentage of those who would be uncomfortable or end the friendship decreased, except for one. Just over 3 percent of people responded they would end a friendship if they found out their female friend was lesbian or bisexual, a 0.7 percent increase from 2012. 

In observation of peers, it was recorded that there was an increase in students witnessing the exclusion of, or name calling of an LGBT person in the last month, from 2012 to 2017. Additionally, there had been an observation of increases in the grabbing or touching of an LGBT person and vandalizing, stealing or damaging of said person’s property. 

The final subcategory, observations of faculty/staff, also reported increases in microaggressions and actions towards LGBT students. 

In the morality subscale, all seven categories saw a decrease. In friendship, five out of six categories decreased. In the peer category there were 22 categories. Only eight could be compared between 2012 and 2017 due to changes in research methods but of the eight, three of the five decreased. 

The friendship scale included questions about friend relationships. It asked the respondent, if they received information that their friend was gay, bisexual or transgender, would they do nothing, be uncomfortable or end the friendship? In response to all the categories, the percentage of those who would be uncomfortable or end the friendship went down except for one. Just over three percent of people responded that they would end a friendship if they found out their female friend was lesbian or bisexual, a 0.7 percent increase from 2012.

In observation of peers, it was recorded that there was an increase in students witnessing the exclusion of or name calling of an LGBT person in the last month from 2012 to 2017. Additionally, there had been an observation of increases in the grabbing or touching of an LGBT person and vandalizing, stealing or damaging of said persons property.

The final subcategory, observations of faculty/staff, also reported increases in microaggressions and actions towards LGBT students. In the morality subscale, all seven categories saw a decrease. In friendship, five out of six categories decreased. In the peer category there were 22 categories. Only eight could be compared between 2012 and 2017 due to changes in research methods but of the eight, three of the five decreased. The final subscale, faculty/staff was the most negative one with two comparable categories, both increasing. 

With the research side by side the question was raised; Are these trends happening more or are they just being reported, realized more often?

Although it seemed that hostile attitudes were increasing because of the bold, red font used in the PowerPoint presentation, the sightings of these microaggressions mostly decreased across the board.

After all subcategories were presented Copp, Hippley and Koehler opened the floor for discussion with the audience.

A few students had input on the research findings. Discussed were ways to fix the problem and what to do if one witnesses any of these behaviors.

Dr. Ron Wilson, the Director of Social Equity & Title IX Coordinator at Edinboro was in attendance. He informed the crowd of how to report any of these situations between students or students and faculty anonymously to the Office of Social Equity. There were reminded that the university has a zero-discrimination policy so reporting of this is important.

With findings that may seem heavy and discouraging, Koehler wrapped of the presentation with a bit of positivity.

 "This is an opportunity for allies to feel empowered, to stand up and say, 'This isn't a behavior directed at me, but this is still inappropriate,'" he said. Koehler continued his hypothetical address to someone committing microaggressions towards a student and said, "'Regardless of how I feel about this or regardless of what your attitude is, your job is to make a safe environment, and this goes against that.'"

Hannah McDonald can be reached at eupnews.spectator@gmail.com.

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